By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES – During his three decades as the chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Doug Ireland was a tireless advocate for physically bringing the hall’s address to Natchitoches.
Eight years after that dream turned into an internationally recognized edifice at the end of Front Street in downtown Natchitoches, Ireland, who spent three decades as the sports information director at Northwestern State, will be named as one of three 2021 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism honorees who will be inducted in June.
Ireland is joined among the DSA winners by Baton Rouge sports writer Sheldon Mickles and pioneering New Orleans sportscaster Ro Brown.
The DSA honor, to be made official next summer in Natchitoches, means they will be among an elite 12-person Class of 2021 being inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. The trio was selected from a 26-person pool of outstanding nominees for the state’s top sports journalism honor.
The Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism recipients are chosen by the 40-member Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame selection committee based on nominees’ professional accomplishments in local, state, regional and even national arenas, with leadership in the LSWA a contributing factor and three decades of work in the profession as a requirement.
Distinguished Service Award winners are enshrined in the Hall of Fame along with the 444 current athletes, sports journalists, coaches and administrators chosen since 1959. Just 66 leading figures in the state’s sports media have been honored with the Distinguished Service Award since its inception 38 years ago in 1982.
Brown, Ireland and Mickles will be among the 2021 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Class to be spotlighted in the annual Induction Dinner and Ceremonies on Saturday evening, June 26, at the Natchitoches Events Center. The Induction Dinner and Ceremonies are the highlight of the 2021 Induction Celebration beginning Thursday afternoon, June 24, with a regionally televised (Cox Sports Television) press conference at the Hall of Fame museum at 800 Front Street in Natchitoches.
The trio of DSA honorees are joined in the class by New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston, former LSU and professional standouts Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (basketball) and Glenn Dorsey (football), six-time national champion football coach Nick Saban, former Southern University All-American and No. 2 overall MLB Draft pick Rickie Weeks, Natchitoches natives and 1980 Bassmaster Classic champion Villis “Bo” Dowden, Baton Rouge native and former Nicholls and Southern Miss softball pitcher Courtney Blades-Rogers and Bastrop native Ronnie Coleman, the eight-time Mr. Olympia bodybuilding champion.
Ireland has been the chairman of the Hall of Fame, a volunteer role, since April 1990, just over a year after he left the Alexandria Town Talk sports staff to become sports information director at Northwestern. He spearheaded efforts leading to construction and opening of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum in Natchitoches in 2013. Ireland wrapped up more than 30 years as the Demons’ innovative SID last summer.
“The most phenomenal aspect of this trio of DSA honorees is not the hundreds of awards they have been bestowed with over the decades of service or their reputation as respected journalists,” said Louisiana Sports Writers Association President Raymond Partsch. “For me, it is the years of unselfish dedication to sports and sports media here in the state of Louisiana that stands out.
“From Sheldon’s work behind the scenes with the LSWA and its annual writing contest, to Ro’s mentorship of aspiring reporters-broadcasters of all ages and backgrounds, and finally Doug dedicating nearly his entire adult life championing the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame,” Partsch added. “We have been blessed to have had them be a part of our state’s storied sports history and there is no better way to honor them than having them inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
Ireland, who grew up in Jonesboro, had a column in the Jackson Independent weekly newspaper and was in local radio beginning at age 14 when he was a two-sport athlete at Jonesboro-Hodge High School. While earning his journalism degree at NSU, he was a news reporter for the Shreveport Times for two years, running the Times Natchitoches Bureau in 1981-82. He spent the next three years as the first-ever assistant SID at UL-Lafayette, then was an award-winning sports editor of the Natchitoches Times before joining the Alexandria Town Talk sports staff in 1987.
In 18 months in Alexandria, Ireland captured 15 LSWA writing contest top three finishes, including records of nine overall awards including six first places in the 1987-88 competition while he covered state colleges, high schools and did general assignment reporting. He picked up six more awards, two firsts, in the 1988-89 contest despite leaving the LSU beat in mid-year to accept the SID post at his alma mater in January 1989.
Ireland added dozens of LSWA awards for writing and publications in 30-plus years as the Demons’ SID, including 33 since 2000. In 2016, he won the LSWA’s Story of the Year award while writing for the Natchitoches Metro Leader. His 1992 Demon football media guide won Best in the Nation for Division I-AA from the College Sports Information Directors of America, and a 1997 historical feature marking Demon great Joe Delaney’s induction in the College Football Hall of Fame was second in a national CoSIDA contest.
He broadcast a live morning NSU Sports report weekdays on three area radio stations throughout his 30 years as SID, also did some play-by-play in basketball, baseball and softball, and was a color analyst for Demon basketball. Ireland guided NSU to innovative delivery of interviews and highlights to television outlets, leading to extensive coverage for the Demons in the university’s key markets of Shreveport-Bossier City and Alexandria-Pineville.
Just over a year after taking the Northwestern SID job, Ireland was asked to step in as the LSWA’s Hall of Fame chairman in April 1990. A decade later, he began a process which took root in 2003 when the Hall of Fame partnered with the Louisiana State Museum, ultimately leading to construction of the acclaimed $23 million Hall of Fame museum that opened in 2013 in Natchitoches.
Ireland managed all aspects of the annual Hall of Fame selections and inductions from 1990-2010, and has continued to coordinate elections since while collaborating with LSHOF Foundation leaders to stage the Induction Celebration each year. He serves as executive director of the Foundation, led by CEO/President Ronnie Rantz since 2016 as its events schedule and brand has greatly expanded around the state and throughout the year.
In 2014, the Louisiana Association of Museums presented Ireland its Lois Wyatt Bannon “Heart and Soul: Service Award given to an individual who has contributed significant time and expertise in support of a Louisiana institution(s), enabling it to prosper.
In 2016, he was the recipient of the Southland Conference’s Louis Bonnette Sports Media Award for impact in the NCAA Division I league.
Ireland was named the Alexandria Town Talk’s Cenla Sportsman of the Year for 2012, an acknowledgement of his dual roles with the Hall of Fame and NSU athletics. In February 2008, he was awarded the “Distinguished American Award” by the S.M. McNaughton Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
The 2021 Induction Celebration will kick off Thursday, June 24, with a press conference and reception. The three-day festivities include two receptions, a youth sports clinic, a bowling party, and a Friday night riverbank concert in Natchitoches. Tickets for the June 26 Induction Dinner and Ceremony, along with congratulatory advertising and sponsorship opportunities, will soon be available through the LaSportsHall.com website.
— Featured photo courtesy of Northwestern State